This post was brought to you by Scarsdale Medical Group.
At some point in your life, you’ve probably dealt with hormonal headaches. Defined by Scarsdale Medical Group’s Neurologist, Dr. Kristen Sahler, as “a headache triggered by a shift in hormones,” our bodies are more susceptible to these types of headaches when going through a hormonal change be it getting your period, ovulation, pregnancy or menopause. Here Dr. Sahler breaks down the facts and what you can do to prevent and alleviate hormonal headaches.
Migraines vs. Tension
A tension headache, the garden-variety headache, is less severe than a migraine and typically involves an aching all over the head, frequently associated with dehydration at the time of your menstrual period. A migraine headache is characterized by severe pain. According to Dr. Sahler, “one can’t really carry on day-to-day activities with a migraine. In addition to a strong throbbing usually on one side of the head, you feel nauseated and quite sensitive to light and noise.” Migraines can run in families, but you don’t need a family history of headaches to develop them yourself. Dr. Sahler does point out that even women who have never experienced hormonal headaches may still do so with a new life change such as menopause.
Natural Ways To Prevent
The most important thing you can do to help prevent hormonal headaches is to take better care of yourself. Most of these are no brainers, but are really important if you suffer on a regular basis.
- Get a “good” amount of sleep. What’s good for you is different from someone else. Dr. Sahler herself admitted to needing 9 hours of sleep while others can manage just fine with 5-6 hours.
- Avoid too much caffeine (which can trigger headaches) and make sure you are drinking enough fluids. When you grab water for your kids when heading out the door, make sure you have some for yourself too.
- Exercise! 30 minutes of moderate exercise (pilates, jogging, etc.) 3 days/week has been shown to greatly reduce the frequency and duration of migraines
- Take vitamins. There are three vitamins that can help prevent headaches: magnesium, Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) and a plant extract, Butterbur. “Research shows these vitamins, when combined, are effective and safe in preventing headaches,” says Dr. Sahler. Sold in combination pills at some stores (ask your pharmacist for help in finding these), they can they can take up to 2-3 months for the preventative benefits to kick in, although most see a difference by 6 weeks. If you’re pregnant, it is safe to take Magnesium and B2 (Riboflavin) in a dose of 400 mg each, but not the plant extract, Butterbur, as enough research hasn’t been done to ensure safety in pregnancy.
If you’re still experiencing hormonal headaches, Dr. Sahler recommends taking a combination analgesic such as Excedrin Migraine or Advil Migraine to treat your pain. But beware, “these run the risk of being overused. If taken more than 2 days/week, you could experience rebound headaches,” says Dr. Sahler. If you experience as many as 4 headaches a month, you should see a doctor. You can try simpler meds like Advil or Naproxen, but they don’t work as well as the combination pills. And Tylenol, which is the only safe over the counter headache medication for pregnant women, is typically not effective against migraines. Dr. Sahler recommends seeking out a headache specialist if you’re pregnant and suffering, as there are certain prescription medications that are safe to use and quite effective.
Lastly, when asked about whether applying ice or heat on your head is advised, Dr. Sahler says to “do what feels good.”
Fast Emergency Relief
If you find yourself in a situation when you need immediate relief and your medication isn’t working, a neurologist can perform a nerve block by injecting lidocaine and steroids under the skin near the pain site to provide relief and stop a migraine. “This is also effective for headaches when you need fast relief, say for a big event like your wedding day,” says Dr. Sahler.
Many of Dr. Sahler’s patients benefit from acupuncture. While not studied and therefore lacking sufficient data to support any efficacy, some people seem to find relief with acupuncture treatments. Another option is craniosacral therapy which you can receive from Scarsdale Medical Group’s Mind-Body Specialist, Dr. Catherine Isaac. This is an eastern medicine technique involving head massage and relaxation techniques. “I refer many patients with headaches to Dr. Isaac for craniosacral therapy and relaxation techniques.”
Kristen E. Sahler, MD is a board certified neurologist with specialty training in headache medicine. Dr. Sahler is expert in the diagnosis and management of all neurological conditions, with special interest in migraine headaches, post-traumatic headaches, concussions and post-concussive syndromes.
The provision of high-quality, personalized health care to Westchester County and New York’s Hudson Valley region has been the mission of the Scarsdale Medical Group for more than 50 years. Their working philosophy of compassion, confidence, and commitment has enabled them to become known and respected by patients and peers throughout the tri-state area.
Scarsdale Medical Group, 600 Mamaroneck Ave, Suite 200, Harrison. (914)723-8100.